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  • Writer's pictureDale Hill

Cuyamaca Clean-up

Date: April 4, 2021

Distance: 7.25 miles

Total Elapsed Time: 6h 15m

Total Moving Time: 3h 22m

Summit Elevation: 6,512 feet

Elevation Gain: 1,652 feet

Trailhead: Paso Picacho Campground, Azalea Glen Loop

Previous Ascents:

  1. January 4, 2021

  2. March 8, 2020

Notes: Survey Marks, not previously located - 4

Starting out on the Azalea Glen Loop Trail

Today's hike to Cuyamaca Peak was a "Clean-Up" mission, not in the sense of picking up trash or beautifying the trail (although I did do some of that), it was about finding the remaining survey marks located on the summit that I hadn't previously recovered.

When I summited Cuyamaca Peak on January 4th as part of the San Diego Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge, there was enough snow at the summit to make a thorough search to find survey marks not worth the effort. Too, Cuyamaca was my first hike that morning, I was headed over to Volcan Moutain Wilderness Preserve next to bag Volcan Benchmark, so spending a lot of time looking for marks just wasn't part of that day's plan.

Sunny Easter Sunday

My plan today was for a leisurely hike to the summit starting out on the Azalea Glen Loop Trail. I had taken this loop on my 2020 ascent, but it was raining and foggy so I really didn't get to enjoy all the scenery. As a matter of fact, I missed a couple of turn-offs back then because I had my head down trying to stay shielded from the rain! Thankfully, today was the exact opposite, it was a beautiful sunny day with a steady breeze. The parking lot at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the Paso Picacho Campground were both full, but I only passed a handful of hikers on my way to the summit.

The views from the trail were spectacular and I picked out lots of familiar peaks that I'd hiked as part of my San Diego 100 Peak Challenge last year. When I reached Azalea Springs I opted to cut across to the Lookout Fire Road via the Azalea Glen Fire Road to make sure I gave myself plenty of time at the summit.

Updated Recovery Information for Cuyamaca Peak

Timeline Reconstruction - Cuyamaca Station and Related Marks

I recovered the Station, CUYAMACA RESET, on my January trip to the summit. It's currently marked by a stem with a chiseled cross on the top, the stem is mounted in a drill hole at the top of a boulder. Through my research, I have pieced together a brief timeline of the Cuyamaca Station and its related marks:

  • 1898 - The original Cuyamaca Station was established with a copper bolt (marked with a cross) mounted in a drill hole on top of a boulder. This location would remain to the present day as the location of the station mark despite a "RESET" and changes in the type of marker used. (DC1974) Reference marks were copper bolts (later referred to as brass plugs). These were set at intersections of cross lines cut in the rock following approximate directions and distances from the station (S, N, and NE. There is no initial mention of the NNW mark)

  • 1910 - The copper bolt was removed and the center of the drill hole was used as the station.

  • 1919 - A new reference mark was created. A cross was cut into the top of a large boulder placed about two feet below the level of the station, and approximately 29 feet SE. (CE9235)

  • 1920 - Original wood Fire Lookout Tower constructed on Cuyamaca Peak (the footings are still visible) (DC1973)

  • 1923 - A standard Station Disc CUYAMACA 1923 was set in the drill hole marking the station, this would be the RESET and should have been stamped CUYAMACA 1898 RESET 1923, however, I couldn't locate definitive proof that the disc was properly stamped. (A reference mark was also established at this time, stamped CUYAMACA 1923 it would become RM 1) (CE9236)

  • 1935 - Station still in good condition, Reference Mark 2 set (CE9237)

  • 1936 - Azimuth Mark (and 2 reference marks) set on top of Stonewall Peak (DC1971) New steel Fire Lookout Tower observed at summit, replacing the original wood tower. At this point, all survey discs reported in good condition. The boulder with the chiseled cross was reported as destroyed during the construction of the new lookout tower.

  • 1939 - Station and two reference marks reported in good condition. Cuyamaca Eccentric station (and ECC RM 1) established.

  • 1950 - Cuyamaca Azimuth Mark reported as Lost, a stone monument had been built over the azimuth disc located on Stonewall Peak (Azimuth reference marks still in good condition)

  • 1954 - Reference Mark 3 (CE9238) is set into the footing of the SE leg of the lookout tower. The four brass plugs are assigned sequential Permanent ID numbers, following the azimuth, clockwise from North. The numbers (CE9239-CE9241) were assigned after RM 3 which leads me to speculate that they weren't previously assigned a PID and the surveyor who set RM 3, officially added them to the NGS database.

  • 1956 - All marks on Cuyamaca Peak still reported in good condition.

  • 1975 - The primary and Eccentric Stations, three primary reference marks, and the four copper plugs (listed as brass plugs on the datasheet) were all reported as found in good condition with the following notes:

    • Cuyamaca ECC 1939 and Cuyamaca RM 2 were reported as found in dense brush

    • Cuyamaca RM 3 was blocked by the lookout tower steps

    • Cuyamaca RM 1 was blocked by the lookout tower leg

    • Distances to the four plugs (NNW, N, NE, S) all checked out with only a slight discrepancy to the South plug. Directions to each of the plugs are updated.

    • The first reference to the Station disc from 1923 is simply stamped "CUYAMACA 1923" (no mention that it was a RESET) It's also noted at this time that the area around the disc had been built up with concrete to form a rectangle about 1" above the rock surface.

    • A key directional aid is provided: the mark is noted to be in line with the two West legs of the tower (those two footings remain and are easily identified)

  • 1981 - A disc stamped NASA-GSFC GREENBELT MD, CUYAMACA 2 1981 is set

  • 198? - The fire lookout tower is either destroyed by fire or demolished, I was unable to locate the exact date.

  • 1986 - First report that the Station disc has been removed and a cross has been chiseled into the top of the exposed stem.

Today's Recoveries

DC1975: CUYAMACA ECCENTRIC 1939 (stem only)

The first of my four recoveries today was the Cuyamaca Eccentric Station (DC1975) set in 1939. I was able to get a good idea of the station's location using the available descriptive information and measurements from the ECC datasheet. Unfortunately, when I found it, all that remained was the mounting stem. I cross-checked all the measurements and azimuths to confirm that this rock outcrop is where the ECC disc was mounted, and am confident it was the spot. The next step was to locate its reference mark.

CE9243: CUYAMACA ECC RM 1 1939 (stem only)

Attention to Detail - An Obvious Error on the Datasheet

The datasheet for the Cuyamaca Eccentric Station lists CE9243 as the CUYAMACA ECC RM 1 and it provides an azimuth to locate it. In the accompanying text, there are two reference marks mentioned, but they are both associated with the primary Cuyamaca Station: RM 1 (stamped Cuyamaca 1923) and RM 2 (stamped Cuyamaca RM 2 1935). A 1975 Recovery Report confirmed locating both of these reference marks. Other than the single-line mention under Reference Objects, there is no other discussion of the Cuyamaca ECC RM 1 🤔 My first course of action was to follow the azimuth listed on the datasheet. I headed SSE from the ECC stem (azimuth: 163º 56') and it led me directly to the Cuyamaca RM 1 1923 disc! This was a disconnect with the information provided on the datasheet, the azimuth didn't lead to the ECC RM 1.

I went back to the ECC stem to regroup. Searching for this reference mark just turned into a "needle in a haystack" endeavor since I had no useful descriptive data, distance, or directions.

Knowing that reference marks are supposed to be placed within line-of-sight to the mark they relate to reduced my search area somewhat based on the terrain around the ECC station. However, what was a clear line-of-sight in 1939 could be a totally different thing in 2021 thanks to Mother Nature's intervention. Expecting to find this reference mark mounted in a boulder or rock outcropping, I set out searching for rocks that would be appropriate to mount the disc on. No luck. Then standing on the trail just below the ECC stem, I happened to look down and saw the end of a ½" metal rod sticking up in a pile of leaves and old brush clippings, it almost looked as if someone had used the clippings to cover the rod. After clearing away all the debris, I took my pictures, including the photos showing the direction between these two stems.

One of two things likely happened:

  1. In the Reference Objects section of the datasheet, they should have typed "CUYAMACA 1923" if they intended that to be one of the reference marks. This would have been supported by the azimuth provided, and the narrative description in the datasheet. (If I hadn't found evidence of the mounting stem in the pictures below, I would have thought this to be the most probable situation.)

  2. When describing Cuyamaca ECC RM 1, data for the wrong mark (CUYAMACA 1923) was used instead of the correct azimuth, distance, and description for the proper mark. (What I actually think happened.)

The stem in the pictures above was located 15-feet due East of the ECC Station just off the trail and a few feet lower than the ECC stem. I have encountered this type of mounting stem on other survey marks, the height above ground, the markings around the top that indicate where the sleeve of the disc was, and the distance and direction from the ECC station all point towards this being the remains of ECC RM 1. Of course, the only way to prove this definitively is to locate the initial survey report when the ECC disc and RM 1 were set.


There are four marks listed on the datasheet as Brass Plugs, they date back to 1898 when the original Cuyamaca Station was set, today I found one of the four, the one located NNW of the station. I have to admit, I was pretty excited to find this one just because of its location. The boulders near the ECC stem provide a very dramatic view to the west and a very steep drop off, there is also an iconic dead tree that features in a LOT of summit pictures.

As I was climbing around on the boulders, I spotted a distinct cross chiseled in the rock with what appeared to be a nail driven in the center. The boulder was about 10-foot high and there really wasn't a good way to get on top of it, there was a smaller rock near its base and I was able to stand on that, on tiptoes to see the mark up close. The nail had a clear cross marking on the top, there was also an arrow chiseled in the rock pointing back to the Cuyamaca RESET mark location.

The best I could do to photograph the mark was to hold my phone up angled towards the mark, snap the picture, then check to see if I captured it. And Repeat. Multiple times. 🙄 In one of my attempts, I noticed the date 1910 chiseled into the rock a few feet below the top, it was oriented as if someone was laying over the top of the rock with someone holding onto them as they chiseled it in, there was also a design that looks like the person's initials. I've seen lots of initials chiseled into rocks (just like people carve their initials in trees), but the placement of this, the date, and obvious detail and permanence make me believe this was legit added in 1910. I took LOTS of pictures of this because it was really pretty cool.

CE9237: CUYAMACA RM 2 1935

I spent 2 hours and 45 minutes at the summit today, a luxury I don't always get to enjoy, but without a hard and fast schedule, I truly got to enjoy some "me time" on the peak. Most of my time was spent looking for survey marks, and this one in particular.

Cuyamaca Reference Mark 2, set in 1935, was much more challenging for me to locate than it should have been. As is usually the case, when I reflect on "how could I have done this better?" I come up with a nugget or two that is painfully apparent in hindsight 😂 but more on that later.

My hunting activities were broken up by snack breaks and visiting with other hikers. There were several groups and a few individuals that approached the summit while I was stomping around in the brush looking for my marks, asking me "Are we close?" I'd point them in the direction of the summit sign sitting on the footing with Reference Mark 3. Always curious, I usually ask a few questions:

  • Are you looking for the survey disc?

  • Have you been to the summit before?

  • Are you doing the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge?

Of course, any one of these is a great conversation starter 😊 so I met and chatted with lots of great people today. It also gave me the opportunity to share my knowledge about survey markers, and specifically the history of the marks on this peak, with a bunch of folks. As a former educator, I love to share new information with people 🥰.

The remains of the West footings align with Cuyamaca RESET mark on top of the boulder (out of frame)

I have to say the highlight of my day was meeting a dad and his daughter at the summit and giving them a walking tour of all the markers explaining their significance and how they came to be there. It was like a history/geography/cartography/science lesson all rolled into one "hands-on" experience, where they could see and touch it. It was fun to see the young lady scamper up onto the boulder to check out what was left of the Cuyamaca RESET and encourage her dad to climb up to check it out too. They were very appreciative of the information, and I felt like my whole day was worth the trip (and I hadn't even found RM 2 yet!)

As I alluded to earlier, I spent a LOT more time looking for RM 2 than I should have. I was working between multiple datasheet descriptions, taking measurements, finding bearings, fighting through the brush, and clearing leaves, dirt, and debris off rocks. I was seriously ready to head back down the hill when I walked past a boulder and caught the disc out of the corner of my eye. It was slightly hidden by some overhanging branches (now clipped out of the way) and the color of the disc blended in like the lichens on the rock. I used my chalk to highlight the markings for my pictures, but I did rinse it off afterward as it made the mark stand out like a beacon!

So, how could this recovery have been completed quicker? Easy peasy. I had coordinates for two marks, the Cuyamaca ECC station that I found today (or more appropriately what was left of it) and the Cuyamaca Azimuth Mark (again, more appropriately where it used to be) that I had previously recovered.

I knew from the datasheet that the bearing to RM 2 fell "in-between" the ECC disc and the Azimuth disc. Plotting those two points on my map would have given me a very narrow pie-wedge-shaped area where I should have focused my efforts, yet I bumbled around in the brush in areas where the disc couldn't possibly have been located 🤦🏻‍♂️. LOL, live and learn 😉

Not A Survey Mark, but Super Cool Nonetheless!

I had actually seen this back in January but I didn't take pictures of it, it's an etching in the shape of a Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service Emblem. I had originally planned to bring a roll of newsprint paper with me and do a rubbing of the full emblem, but I forgot 😶

Cuyamaca Lookout Emblem Etched in Boulder

It's easy to discern "Cuyamaca Lookout" above the emblem, and "Cleveland" along the left side, on the bottom left there are some initials (could be JBSM) and bottom right are enough letters to make out "Ranger", I haven't a clue as to what is along the right side. Clearly inside the emblem is a divider with names on either side. I trimmed back some of the manzanita overgrowth to make it more visible.

I've reached out to the Park Rangers at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the U.S. Forest Service at Cleveland National Forest for help in understanding the history behind this. (I'll update this post when/if I learn anything new)

Relieve® 3D Video of Today's Adventure

It was a great day, I had completed what I'd set out to do and had an enjoyable time doing it. I had originally planned to return via the Conejos Trail back to the Azalea Spring Fire Road then pick up the Azalea Glen Trail back to the parking lot, but I had spent more time at the summit than I thought I would, so I just took the Lookout Fire Road back.

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